Time. A strange concept, and Tenet, a palindrome, spelled the same forward as it is backward, is a fantastic title for what is easily 2020’s best film so far. As quarantine hit the theater industry, and the film industry as a whole, was shaken to its core in ways never seen before. Productions stopped, release dates were postponed and cancelled, and projects were put on hold indefinitely. Among all the chaos, director Christopher Nolan fought all odds to deliver an outstanding film.
Now, the world has known Christopher Nolan is a great filmmaker for nearly 20 years, with works like Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, and Dunkirk and when he has a budget of $205 million dollars, and a team of some of the best VFX artists of the last decade, he crafts one of the most visually stunning and extraordinary pieces of film I’ve seen in a long time. Spectacle, sound, and suspense fill Tenet to the brim with excitement. The non-stop plot and pounding score from Ludwig Göransson carry the film with impeccable momentum, leaving nearly no room to breathe as you’re placed in the action from the first second of the movie.
John David Washington, Robbert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh lead the film, and they all give fantastic performances, but the outlier here is Kenneth Branagh’s villainous role Andrei Sator. Branagh’s range in this character is fantastic, going from kindness to rage to sadness back to rage in a split second. The characters all feature great dialogue courtesy of Christopher Nolan who wrote the film in addition to directing it.
Tenet’s plot is something I’ll only touch on briefly as to not give too much away, but the gist of it is this: Save the world and stop World War 3. To do so is to learn how to harness “inversion” which is a method developed in the world of the movie where people can manipulate time on a small scale. You can go back and change things if you fail, and have information that people before you lack. It’s a very interesting concept and it’s incredible to see. Battle scenes with armies moving forward and backwards simultaneously, and buildings being destroyed and then repaired is fantastic to see on the big screen.
Tenet’s a near perfect movie for me, but the place where I find the most issue is not in the plot, or the pacing, or the writing. It’s all technical problems. Nolan has a history of terrible sound mixing, and for his last 4 films, sadly including Tenet the dialogue seems to be at the bottom of the mix, far below sound effects and music. I would have loved to hear all the great writing and exposition but sadly the mixing is so poor, I honestly couldn’t understand half the dialogue in the movie, and that’s why I feel Tenet won’t get the credit it deserves. Not being able to hear the dialogue may severely impact people’s ability to understand the complicated and fast-moving plot.
All-in-all, Tenet is a masterful exposition of sight, sound, and spectacle. It is an experience like nothing I’ve seen recently, and with technical issues taking away from the experience, Tenet still prevails with a great, and revolutionary film that I feel will only get stronger with time.